After an undeserved summer break, I’m warming up my blogging fingers
Sometimes it feels like the clock ticks backwards during the summer. But as miserable as the summer has been, for football fans, it is mercifully nearing it’s conclusion. Pre-season football has begun and with it comes real news, possibly some real transfer activity, and certainly some watchable games to whet our appetites for the impending season. And so I return to this space with some thoughts about where we’ve been and where we’re heading.
Let’s just hope this is the last time that Emmanuel Adebayor is mentioned in this blog. He’s gone from Arsenal, and by the time he finally left, most Arsenal supporters seemed whole-heartedly happy to see him go. As far as the transfer fee itself, his move to Citeh was as close as you come in business to receiving a gift from the competition. We received more money for him this summer from Citeh, than anyone was offering last summer after a superior season. Moreover, they paid seemingly twice the fee that was on offer elsewhere. Some absurd quotes have appeared on the Internet and in the tabloids suggesting that Adebayor is the missing piece that will help Citeh knock Arsenal out of the top four, but considering that the Sky Blues finished in tenth place last season, there’s still a lot for them to prove. Adebayor is the archetypal example of the myopic modern athele. He is unable to see beyond the lies told to him by his advisors and entourage. I’m a little surprised by how excited most Arsenal fans were for such a talented striker to leave the club. But football supporters are the most passionate sports fans in the world and most of us simply can’t tolerate player’s like Greedybayor at the Club we love.
I think for most Arsenal fans this was a bittersweet goodbye. There’s simply no denying that Toure’s move was good business. But the last time I checked, our balance sheet never used it’s recovery speed to thwart and opponents attack. Fans don’t root for balanced budgets, we root for players. Kolo Toure was a player most of us really supported. And while we should never lose sight of the fact that Arsenal Football Club is a business, it’s business is ultimately best served by winning. No matter how much money we banked from selling Adebayor and Toure (and possibly Eboue), we stand to lose far more than that if their departures mean that Arsenal aren’t able to achieve continued participation in the Champions League. In sport, winning is the best way to make money. And without the proper talent, you can’t win. So Kolo’s departure was good business, but when I listen to Arsene declare that we still have seven central defenders, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little cynical. Gallas, Djourou, Vermaelen and, if he stays, Senderos certainly qualify. But Song is not a central defender, Silvestre is not a capable footballer, and anyone else being lumped into the mix would just set us up for more of the same defending that thwarted our ambitions last season. Kolo might have been past his best, but he was still formidable. I enjoyed watching him tremendously and he was our last tie to the Invincibles. His best days might be behind him, but I will miss seeing him in the Arsenal shirt and it’s going to be interested seeing the reception he gets when Citeh visit the Emirates this season.
We secured Vermaelen quickly. I suspect that he was signed so quickly because he was needed, but also to quiet the Blame-Arsene-First crowd that would have spent the entire summer calling for his head until someone (anyone) was signed. Regardless, I know very little about him except that he looks like a stone cold killer which is a compliment for a central defender. I’m not entirely certain that he’s better than Toure which begs the question whether it was a net-loss on that business, but we’ll know better in a few months.
Right now the question for Arsenal is whether we’re truly a selling club. Adebayor has left. Toure has left. Eboue appears set to leave. Senderos may go as well. (Sadly it looks like Silvestre is staying.) With only Vermaelen signed so far, it does look a little like an exodus. More so when you consider the previous summer’s departures. While the designation as a “selling club” is irrelevant to our performance on the pitch, it can be a problem when it comes to keeping our most treasured possessions. Cesc will certainly find it harder to stay loyal if he believes Arsenal lack the resources to compete for silverware. But Arsene is in a tough position. The world is in a recession, but transfer fees are soaring thanks to Real Madrid and Citeh’s silly money. Wenger is an economist at heart and I’m sure he loathes the idea of overpaying for players. But the fact remains, that if he wants to sign a big player this summer, he’s going to pay an inflated fee. What he needs to realize is that the players that he’s sold have brought in more than would be expected so it balances the equation. The interesting issue is whether the money is really at Wenger’s disposal. I can’t imagine that Arsene doesn’t have one or two players on his radar, and if the money is really there to spend, we should see some additions before the pre-season is over.
There seems to be a general consensus that what we need is a defensive midfielder. I agree, but I also think that we could use another central defender. I’m not convinced that we have the toughness in the center of defense that you need to deal with players like Torres, Rooney and that miserable beast of a man, Drogba. Having said that, I doubt that we’ll be seeing another defensive signing this summer so the current group will have to do.
Another striker would be nice but I say that partly out of concern for the health of our current crop and partly due to a lack of experience. Van Persie and Eduardo aren’t the safest bet to play a full season (but we can hope.) Theo and Arshavin might see some time as strikers but that’s not our best, every game solution. That leaves only Bendtner as our reliable first-choice striker. I like Nik, but I’m not sure he’s at the level yet where he can shoulder that much responsibility. There’s Carlos Vela but he’s still fighting to be part of the first team. When you look at the list, our strike force would start to seem really flimsy with an injury to RVP or the Crozillian. I’m not sure Chamakh is the solution to this problem, but Huntelaar would do nicely and I still have a feeling he could be on the way. Regardless of our needs for defenders and strikers, most Arsenal supporters will feel rightly concerned if a defensive midfielder doesn’t come into the side before the widow closes. Since there’s not even a single name floating around the tabloids, it’ll be very interesting to see if one arrives.
Before this season starts, we have to purge the negativity from last season. Last season was a disappointment. But considering everything that went wrong, I think the biggest challenge for Arsenal Football Club last season can be summed up in one word: (no, not “injuries”) Attitude. Attitude was a big problem last season. Adebayor, Gallas, Clichy, Toure, Bendtner, Diaby, and Eboue all hurt the team with their attitude at different points during the season. When you watch Manchester United, apart from hoping for the Earth to open up and swallow them whole, you notice the attitude. It’s a winning attitude exemplifying confidence and unity. Arsenal need a winning attitude. The “young guns” must mature and show some character this season. I think Cesc’s first full season as captain will be influential. Gallas’ captaincy early last season, combined with Cesc’s prolonged absence were a big part of the problem. But this season everyone who plays for Arsenal must play like a man, and behave like a man. It will help that Adebayor is gone. It will help to have Rosicky and Eduardo and Cesc back full time. But Diaby needs to learn to give his best effort every game. Song must show the maturity and determination we saw towards the end of last season. Gallas must be committed to the cause. Bendtner has to stop worrying about his opportunities for personal glory and Clichy has to eliminate the lapses in concentration that have been so detrimental over the last two seasons. It’s so cliche to talk about attitude in sport, but last season’s problems with attitude were so glaring, that it deserves attention before this seasons starts.
(Here’s an exercise. If you think “attitude” is one of those meaningless intangibles that people talk about too much, just consider this: how many points did we drop last season due to bad attitude? Think about Gallas’ falling out with Toure, Eboue’s meltdowns including the horrible red card, Adebayor’s failure to stay on-side or work hard against United, Clichy’s mental lapses against Sp*rs (among others), Van Persie getting a red card and three game ban for barging Thomas Sorensen out of frustration, etc. Think of the goals we allowed to set pieces. That’s down to concentration and attitude plain and simple. It has to change this season.)
No one ever really knows what Arsene Wenger is thinking. His approach to football is unique and brilliant. But last season you could almost watch Arsene struggle to find the right formation for the talent on this team. And I’m not sure that he ever got the formula quite right. Some of that can be blamed on the disruption caused by injuries. When you can’t depend on the same players being available, and you’re thread bare at certain positions, it’s impossible to implement a consistent strategy. But this pre-season, Arsene has the chance to get the alchemy just right. I think it’s already becoming clear that we’re not going to line-up in a 4-4-2 this season. More likely, we are going to see a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with Arshavin and Theo or Bendtner along side Van Persie, and Cesc higher up the field behind the main striker. Who will partner Cesc in midfield remains to be seen but it would appear that Song or Denilson will be called upon for defensive cover. (Barring a new signing of course.)
It seems like Arsene might have been influenced by Barca’s swashbuckling success last season in their free-flowing 4-3-3. Barca played a beautiful brand of football typified by quick passing, good movement off the ball, and high defensive pressure above midfield. Barcelona’s opponents played most of the game in their own half last season. Much of Barca’s style was reminiscent of Arsenal. The passing and movment they employed certainly suits our personnel. But the pressure up field left Barca vulnerable to the counter attack and that’s something that that concerns me if we are going to play the way they did last season. It puts a lot of pressure on the central defenders to break-up the counter attacks and the midfielders must work extra hard to maintain possession. Careless giveaways (the kind that Denilson and Diaby specialize in) are killers when everyone is pushed into the attacking half of the pitch.
It will certainly be interesting to see how we lineup. While we’re all clamoring for another midfielder, at some point this season Wenger is going to have to decide who to play from this list: Cesc, RVP, Bendtner, Eduardo, Theo, Arshavin, Rosicky, and Nasri. Presumably, they can’t all play together (except on Xbox or playstation). So who sits? And who plays where? Can’t wait to find out.
As usual this has been an overlong, poorly organized, rambling blog entry. But as I indicated, this is my pre-season too. I’ve taken a break and there’s been a buildup of thoughts so if you muddled through this entire entry…kudos. You have my undying admiration.
As a final thought, I considered this today as I read a particularly venimous blog about Arsene Wenger’s failure to sign new players. We always want new players. We always clamor for new signings. But why do we assume the new player will be better than what we have? Why is Vermalaen necessarily better than Senderos, or Toure? Why would a new defensive midfielder be better than what Song or Denilson or Diaby could produce this season? We don’t know that for sure. Just look at players like Berbatap, or Keane last season. I’m sure supporters were so excited to see them come to their respective teams, only for them to make comically poor contributions. (particularly in Keane’s case.) When you sign a new player, you’re getting an unknown. They can turn out to be like Arshavin, or they can be more like Baptista. And it usually takes the new player time to acclimate to his new team and, in certain cases, new league. By the time they’re ready to fit in, there might be little left to play for.
I don’t want to sound like a shill for Arsene Wenger, but he’s right about one thing; our young players will improve. They are just starting to reach the point of their careers where we can see what they have to offer. Perhaps this season, some of the “young guns” will step into the role of Gunner greats.
Until next time.